In ancient times, the vintner would take the pruning and stack it at the perimeter to form a protective hedge around the vineyard.

The rain abated, and Don decided on a change of venue, taking advantage of the unexpected sunshine to head into the vineyard and check how the grapes are responding to the weather change. Grateful for these muck boots today.

As we walked through the muck, the suction my boots made with the mud with every step was strangely comforting. I felt connected to the soil.

Don walked ahead of Jack and me, a set of pruning sheers hanging from his belt. I contemplated the vats of wine that are headed for fermentation and I wondered how long those grapes stayed on the vine before they were harvested. “Don, are these vines destined for next year’s harvest?” I innocently asked.

“The grapes you’ll see in next year’s crush won’t even grow until Spring. The part of the vine that produced the current season’s canes, that part of the plant is almost like an annual in that it grows rapidly for only one season. The grapes that produce the most fruit grow off of one-year-old canes like this one.” He unclipped the sheers from his belt and started cutting.

Entire canes falling to the valley floor felt like such a waste. They looked so robust, perfectly healthy, budding grapes clearly visible. Jack, as usual, took notice of the look of awe on my face and decided to fill in the blanks for me. “Too many of these old canes and we’ll get fewer grapes in the Spring. We prune back these vines to get new growth next year.” The look on my face betrayed the loss of innocence with the carnage of these perfectly good fruit-bearing vines that would become dead wood.

“Did you know that in some cultures they collected the dead wood pruned from the vines and stacked them up around the edges of the vineyard? Created a protective hedge from animals that might come in and destroy the fruit.” Jack was taken by surprise when Don cut in.

“Or eat the fruit.” Don kept pruning. “Like they did in the Land of Milk and Honey.”

“Like in the Bible?” I felt like a school girl.

Don kept pruning as he continued. “In Bible times they didn’t have nice fences like ours,” he nodded to the sturdy perimeter fence along the hillside and by the road. “They had watchtowers in the middle of the vineyard so they could look out for anything that might harm or hinder the vines, but they couldn’t see everything, so would take the trimmings and stack them up to form a hedge around the vineyard.”

We walked in silence for a few minutes as I contemplated the vineyard of our firm and the necessary trimming I had done on our team. Then I thought of Bryson. I wondered how many other vineyards raised wolves inside the hedge, ready to turn against the fruit for their own profit. I thought about my team and that surprise staff meeting.

Don lectured on hedging for the better part of the afternoon. Eventually Jack picked up his sheers too and made his contributions on where pruning is beneficial and where it starts to work against the vintner’s plan. The sun was doing its work. You could almost see the transformation as the cold, wet vines took in the nourishment. There was something magical about being in the middle of a vineyard watching this process. It felt like a reflection of my own transformation – the pruning in my own life that might be used for a purpose.

As we approached the hacienda I could tell we had a visitor. There was a gentleman seated on the terrace being interrogated by our lady of the house. I could see the man nodding obediently as Syrah engaged him in serious conversation. It wasn’t until we were at the bottom of the steps that I realized it was Matt, my boss. Syrah disappeared inside as we reached the top step, taking a subtle cue from her father’s casual head nod.

“Matt, what a surprise!” I went past the handshake for the kind of friendly side hug that’s appropriate with colleagues who have worked together for years. I made the introductions and then asked the obvious, “What brings you out here?”

“Sorry for the surprise,” Matt made eye contact with Don and Jack. “I don’t want to disturb the important work going on here. I just needed to bring Nora up to speed on some business issues. It won’t take but a few minutes.”

Jack smiled in a way that said I’m not sure I believe you but kept his poker face intact. “Your timing is perfect. Don and I have a few things to take care of before dinner. Should we add a place for you, Matt? Can you stay?”

Matt offered the polite decline customary for someone who wanted to cut the conversation short and get back to business. Don and Jack walked into the hacienda and took a seat in the chair opposite Matt that Syrah had been warming. My mind was racing with the possibility that Bryson had given Matt his version of our … altercation. I was preparing my defense when Matt threw a bomb on the railroad track of my mind.

“Nora, this is not a sanctioned visit,” Matt said bluntly. That knot tightened again, right in my heart. The past few days flashed before my mind’s eye and I wondered what I’d done. My stunned reaction was all the cue he needed to proceed.

“I’ve retired. You won’t find my name on the office door when you come back,” Matt panned, knowing I expected to replace his name with mine. The knot dropped from my heart to my stomach.

“Bryson and I disagreed on the succession plan I had in mind,” which was to put my name on that door, “and he’s already named my replacement. Nora, Bryon hired Ridley Yarborough.”

My jaw may have made a cracking sound as it hit the floor, “From H&K? THAT Ridley Yarborough?” My mind flooded with his pompous, haughty face acting like he owned this veranda when that team stood up to make their bid for this account, the face that Don and Jack decidedly didn’t trust. The memory of that day was taking my mind down a whole different track before I realized that the train had already derailed.

“Nora, the reason I came out is that Bryson told me you’d removed yourself from consideration.” Matt leaned in. “Nora, I haven’t heard from you in several days. Frankly, I was really surprised by this and I wanted to make sure I have the whole story before I head into the sunset.”

Waiting for the blood to return to my face, I took a deep breath to cool the heat rising in my voice. “Matt, I’m glad you came,” I said barely controlling the wavering anger in my voice, “There absolutely is more to the whole story. Let me fill you in.”

 

DISCUSS

Have you ever received news, like Nora received from Matt about Ridley, that rocked your world? How did you respond?

What does pruning look like in your life?

Are you past it or still in it? Have you been able to see the results of pruning stacked around your life like a protective hedge?